Bayesian cross validation for gravitational-wave searches in pulsar-timing array data

10 Apr 2019  ·  Wang Haochen, Taylor Stephen R., Vallisneri Michele ·

Gravitational-wave data analysis demands sophisticated statistical noise models in a bid to extract highly obscured signals from data. In Bayesian model comparison, we choose among a landscape of models by comparing their marginal likelihoods... However, this computation is numerically fraught and can be sensitive to arbitrary choices in the specification of parameter priors. In Bayesian cross validation, we characterize the fit and predictive power of a model by computing the Bayesian posterior of its parameters in a training dataset, and then use that posterior to compute the averaged likelihood of a different testing dataset. The resulting cross-validation scores are straightforward to compute; they are insensitive to prior tuning; and they penalize unnecessarily complex models that overfit the training data at the expense of predictive performance. In this article, we discuss cross validation in the context of pulsar-timing-array data analysis, and we exemplify its application to simulated pulsar data (where it successfully selects the correct spectral index of a stochastic gravitational-wave background), and to a pulsar dataset from the NANOGrav 11-year release (where it convincingly favors a model that represents a transient feature in the interstellar medium). We argue that cross validation offers a promising alternative to Bayesian model comparison, and we discuss its use for gravitational-wave detection, by selecting or refuting models that include a gravitational-wave component. read more

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Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology